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Ukrainian Military Reports Heavy Fighting Along Front Line In Eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers jump from a pickup truck to take up positions at the front line in the Mykolayiv region.
Ukrainian soldiers jump from a pickup truck to take up positions at the front line in the Mykolayiv region.

Heavy fighting was reported on August 9 in frontline towns of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region as Russian troops launched waves of attacks to try to expand their control of the Donbas.

Kyiv said its troops were putting up fierce resistance and largely holding the line.

Russian troops tried to storm in several directions in the Donetsk region, the General Staff of the Ukrainian military said in a battlefield assessment issued on the evening of August 9.

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"In the Donetsk direction, the enemy, with the support of aviation, is trying to conduct assault actions in the Bakhmut and Avdiyiv directions,” the General Staff report said.

Russian forces were continuing with the "systematic shelling of positions along the contact line” to constrain the actions of Ukrainian units and prevent them from regrouping, it said.

Shelling was reported in the direction of Kramatorsk and Bakhmut, cities north of Donetsk city, while the General Staff said there was an unsuccessful attempt to storm Russian troops in the Spirniy region of Donetsk, one of the two eastern regions where Russia-backed separatists have held large swaths of territory for the past eight years.

Russian troops tried to involve intelligence groups in several districts north of Donetsk city but retreated after being hit by fire from Ukrainian defenders, the report said.

They were also unsuccessful in carrying out combat reconnaissance in the areas of Pidgorodne north of Dnipro and Bakhmut, the report says.

According to the General Staff, Russian units had "partial success" in the direction of the village of Vershina, but have not been able to improve the tactical position in the directions of Bakhmut and other cities north of Donetsk city.

Russia said its forces had captured a factory for Moscow on the edge of the eastern town of Soledar.

Other Russian-backed forces said they were in the process of "clearing out" the heavily fortified village of Pisky. And Russian media reported that a group of mercenaries from the Vagner Group had dug in near Bakhmut.

It was not possible to verify either side's battlefield accounts.

Russia has been "reinforcing defenses" in southern Ukraine while keeping up attacks on Ukrainian positions in the eastern Donetsk region, but has only managed to advance about 10 kilometers in the past month on its "most successful axis" there, according to U.K. military intelligence.

In its regular assessment earlier on August 9, British Defense Intelligence said Russian forces had not advanced more than three kilometers elsewhere in Donetsk.

Such a pace is "almost certainly significantly less than planned," Defense Intelligence added.

"Despite its continued heavy use of artillery in these areas, Russia has not been able to generate capable combat infantry in sufficient numbers to secure more substantial advances," it said.

British intelligence previously warned on August 8 that Russia was using anti-personnel mines in an effort to defend and hold its defense lines, with resulting risks to both the military and local civilian populations.

In Crimea, Moscow-imposed authorities said explosions hit a military airport near the village of Novofedorivka, killing one person and injuring several others.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the detonation of aviation ammunition caused the explosions without clarifying who or what triggered the blasts.

The ministry's statement implied the airfield was not targeted in an attack and said that no one was injured.

Meanwhile, the United States said it would provide $89 million to Ukraine for removing land mines put in place by Russian forces. The money will support 100 demining teams as well as training and equipment necessary to clear landmines and unexploded ordnance for a year.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

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Kazakh Ex-Minister Faces Up To 20 Years In Prison For Allegedly Killing Wife

Former Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in 2018, but served only 18 months before being freed in a mass amnesty.
Former Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev was sentenced to 10 years in prison on corruption charges in 2018, but served only 18 months before being freed in a mass amnesty.

ASTANA -- Former Kazakh Economy Minister Quandyq Bishimbaev faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted after the charge of murder was revised up to murder with extreme violence, Deputy Prosecutor-General Zhandos Omiraliev said on November 30.

Omiraliev added that the previous charge envisioned a punishment between 8 and 15 years in prison, while the new charge may lead to Bishimbaev facing between 15 and 20 years if found guilty.

Omiraliev confirmed that a relative of Bishimbaev was also arrested on a charge of failing to report an ongoing crime.

In 2018, Bishimbaev and 22 others faced a high-profile corruption trial that ended with Bishimbaev's conviction on charges of bribery and embezzlement while leading a state-controlled holding company.

A court in Astana sentenced him to 10 years in prison, but Bishimbaev was subsequently granted an early release through a mass amnesty decreed by the government. He had served about 18 months of his term when the amnesty occurred.

Since the 43-year-old Bishimbaev was arrested this month and charged with beating his wife, Saltanat Nukenova, to death in a restaurant in the Central Asian country's largest city, Almaty, many in Kazakhstan have raised the issue of domestic violence, emphasizing that in many cases, including deadly ones, the perpetrators avoid justice.

Domestic violence has been a major issue in the former Soviet republic for decades.

Amid the public outcry over Nukenova's death, Kazakh President Qasym-Zhomart Toqaev publicly called on the Interior Ministry to have the investigation of the case under its "special control."

The Interior Ministry said earlier that, in general, more than 100,000 cases of domestic violence are officially registered each year, though the number of unregistered cases, analysts say, is likely much larger.

International rights watchdogs have urged Kazakh officials to curb the spread of domestic violence for years.

According to United Nations experts, about 400 women die in Kazakhstan as a of result of domestic violence every year.

Russian Director, Playwright's Appeals Against Extension Of Pretrial Detention Rejected

Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich appears at a hearing at a Moscow court on June 30.
Russian stage director Yevgenia Berkovich appears at a hearing at a Moscow court on June 30.

The Moscow City Court on November 30 rejected appeals filed by theater director Yevgenia Berkovich and playwright Svetlana Petriichuk against an extension of their pretrial detention on charges of justifying terrorism with the production of the play Finist -- The Brave Falcon -- about Russian women who married Muslim men and moved to Syria. The court upheld a lower-court decision in early November to extend the two women's pretrial detention until at least January 10, 2024. Berkovich and Petriichuk maintain their innocence. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Azerbaijani, Armenian Deputy PMs Agree To Intensify Border Talks

Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev (combo photo)
Armenian Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian (left) and Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev (combo photo)

Azerbaijani Deputy Prime Minister Sahin Mustafayev and his Armenian counterpart, Mher Grigorian, led a fifth meeting of the two South Caucasus countries' border-delimitation commissions on November 30 and agreed to intensify future talks. Both countries' Foreign Ministries said an agreement was reached to start work on negotiations for the draft regulation on the joint activities of the commissions. The issue of Azerbaijani-Armenian border delimitation has been under focus amid preliminary steps for a peace agreement after Baku regained control over the then mostly Armenian-populated breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September.

OSCE Opens Summit In Skopje Amid Boycotts, Criticism Directed At Russia's Presence

Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani (right) welcomes his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to the OSCE summit in Skopje on November 30.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Bujar Osmani (right) welcomes his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, to the OSCE summit in Skopje on November 30.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on November 30 kicked off its annual summit in North Macedonia amid boycotts and criticism from some member states for the presence in Skopje of Russia's top diplomat as Moscow continues its war on Ukraine.

North Macedonia's foreign minister, Bujar Osmani, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the pan-European security body, slammed Russia's ongoing invasion in his opening remarks as host of the summit.

"Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine flies in the face of all this organization holds dear," Osmani said.

Despite Osmani's remarks, North Macedonia has still faced criticism that it has given in to Moscow by allowing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to attend the meeting, though not without issues.

Sofia lifted an EU-wide ban imposed on Lavrov's plane flying over the bloc's airspace -- implemented as a measure against Russia for its full-scale invasion -- to allow him to attend the summit.

Russia, however, said the plane with the Foreign Ministry delegation was refused entry at the last minute because spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who is under European Union sanctions, was on board the plane as well and didn't have permission. The flight was rerouted over Greek airspace after Athens approved an exception.

Sofia has not commented on the Russian claims.

Lavrov's intention to attend the summit already threatened to overshadow the meeting after it sparked a boycott by Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

Established initially as the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, in 1975 as a tool of cooperation between the West and the Soviet-led Eastern bloc, the OSCE brings together 57 states from Europe, Central Asia, and North America.

The Vienna, Austria-based OSCE deals with issues such as arms control, the promotion of human rights, freedom of the press, and free and fair elections.

Osmani told RFE/RL in an interview ahead of the summit that he regarded the meeting as a "victory of the rules-based international order."

"What we are doing is continuing the rules of conduct of this organization so that all participating states are at the table, since this is a consensus-based organization," Osmani told RFE/RL.

"All the more, taking into account that the organization goes through an exceptional moment when its very existence is being questioned, we considered it crucial to reach a consensus, especially on those pillars that ensure the functionality of the organization for the future."

Still, several other members, including Poland, took issue with Lavrov's presence in Skopje.

"We just cannot ignore the fact that the Russian minister of foreign affairs will be present at the table of the organization that is supposed to build peace and security in Europe," Polish Foreign Minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek told reporters ahead of the meeting.

Osmani also rejected criticism that by allowing militarily neutral Malta to take over the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE in January, the organization acquiesced to Moscow, which had vetoed Estonia's taking the helm of the group because of its being a member of NATO.

"I think [Malta's chairmanship is] a diplomatic victory. It is a victory for the OSCE and a victory for the rules-based international order," Osmani said, adding that Russia was "not happy" during the chairmanship of NATO member North Macedonia.

"We were unequivocal in our condemnation of Russian aggression in Ukraine. Russia openly violated the basic, founding principles and obligations of the organization, and from the beginning we recognized our role as guardians of those principles and obligations.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who arrived in Skopje on November 29, attended a pre-summit dinner with representatives of other OSCE states, but did not attend the opening of the summit on November 30.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP

Officials Around the World Praise Kissinger, Father Of Soviet Détente

Henry Kissinger died on November 29 at his home in Connecticut.
Henry Kissinger died on November 29 at his home in Connecticut.

Diplomats and leaders across Europe hailed Henry Kissinger, the U.S. diplomat who pursued through the 1970s a policy of détente with the Soviet Union that sparked arms-control accords to help keep Cold War tensions from boiling over into nuclear war, after the announcement of his death at the age of 100.

Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who died on November 29 at his home in Connecticut, was praised by many for his work while serving two U.S. presidents -- Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Born in Germany, Kissinger joined Richard Nixon's administration as national security adviser in 1969, a job he kept after the president resigned amid the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford. He also served as secretary of state under both Nixon and Ford, playing a prominent role in U.S. foreign policy from 1969 to 1977.

"A kind human and a brilliant mind who, over one hundred years, shaped the destinies of some of the most important events of the century. A strategist with attention to the smallest detail," European Council President Charles Michel said.

Known for his thick glasses and gravelly voice, Kissinger, an Orthodox Jew, left Germany in 1938 and moved with his family to New York.

He worked as a translator for the U.S. Army during World War II before eventually going on to Harvard University, where he earned a PhD in philosophy.

"The name of Henry Kissinger is inextricably linked with a pragmatic foreign policy line, which at one time made it possible to achieve détente in international tensions and reach the most important Soviet-American agreements that contributed to the strengthening of global security," Russian President Vladimir Putin said.

Despite criticism from many that he turned a blind eye to U.S. war crimes in Vietnam, which he helped extricate the United States from, Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973 along with Le Duc Tho "for jointly having negotiated a cease-fire in Vietnam."

He was also heavily criticized for failing what some analysts said were policies that gave the green light to repressive regimes in Latin America.

General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev (2nd left) and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (left) meet U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (2nd right) and U.S. diplomat Walter J. Stoessel (right) in Moscow in January 1976.
General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev (2nd left) and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko (left) meet U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (2nd right) and U.S. diplomat Walter J. Stoessel (right) in Moscow in January 1976.


But in the decades after he left government, Kissinger, arguably the most identifiable secretary of state in modern times, continued to be sought out informally by officials around the world for advice, and remained in the spotlight with his opinions on everything from China to the Middle East to Russia.

"He was a problem solver, whether in respect of the Cold War, the Middle East or China and its rise," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

Commenting in January this year on Putin's February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Kissinger told the World Economic Forum in Davos that NATO membership for Kyiv would be an "appropriate outcome" once the conflict ends.

"The idea of a neutral Ukraine under these conditions is no longer meaningful," he said.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kissinger's impact on foreign policy thinking and the global stage would live on long past the diplomat's death.

"The century of Henry Kissinger was no easy one, but its great challenges fit his great and curious mind. He changed its pace and the face of diplomacy," Kuleba said on X, formerly Twitter.

With reporting by Reuters and AP

Russian Rights Group Memorial Recognizes RFE/RL's Kurmasheva As Political Prisoner

Alsu Kurmasheva's arrest triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.
Alsu Kurmasheva's arrest triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.

The human rights group Memorial has recognized Alsu Kurmasheva, a veteran journalist of RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service who has been in Russian custody since October 18, as a political prisoner.

Kurmasheva, a Prague, Czech Republic-based journalist with RFE/RL who holds dual U.S. and Russian citizenships, traveled to Russia for a family emergency in May.

She was temporarily detained while waiting for her return flight on June 2 at the airport in the capital of the Tatarstan region, where both of her passports were confiscated. She was not able to leave Russia as she awaited the return of her travel documents.

On October 11, Kurmasheva was fined 10,000 rubles ($103) for failing to register her U.S. passport with the Russian authorities, according to local media reports based on court documents they'd seen.

Kurmasheva was detained again on October 18 and this time charged with failing to register as a "foreign agent," a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

The Investigative Committee said Kurmasheva was being charged under a section of the Criminal Code that refers to the registration of foreign agents who carry out "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia," which, if received by foreign sources, "can be used against the security of the country."

It gave no further details.

The Investigative Committee said its investigation found that while the Russian Justice Ministry did not add her to the list of foreign agents, she failed to provide documents to be included on the registry.

Kurmasheva and RFE/RL have both rejected the charge.

Russia's detention of Kurmasheva, the second U.S. media member to be detained by Moscow this year, triggered a wave of criticism from rights groups and politicians saying the move signals a new level of wartime censorship.

Sergei Davidis, the leader of Memorial's Support of Political Prisoners project, told RFE/RL that Kurmasheva was recognized as a political prisoner because the group considers illegal the Russian Criminal Code's article on foreign agents and its connection with so-called "purposeful collection of information in the field of military, military-technical activities of Russia."

Davidis added that Memorial considered the prosecution and possible conviction of people for failing to carry out "a so-called obligation to voluntarily declare themselves as foreign agents...also illegal."

"That request is illegal because, de facto, it is not about punishment for failure to declare, but for implementation of legal activities. The information in question is not classified and it is not illegal to collect such information," Davidis said, stressing that the Federal Security Service (FSB) had given a vague explanation about what can be considered information banned for collecting.

"Additional to that, we see concrete political goals in [Kurmasheva's] case that were obvious by how the persecution was carried out. First, she was detained and convicted of failure to declare the second citizenship, and after that only, after obvious thinking over and looking for reasons -- they filed the second case," Davidis said.

"This is the first criminal case and arrest of that kind. It explicitly indicates the artificial grounds of the whole construction. This illegal charge was thought over for a long time before it was used. They had searched for something to deprive Alsu Kurmasheva of her freedom," he added.

Russia has been accused of detaining Americans to use as bargaining chips to exchange for Russians jailed in the United States. Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested for alleged spying -- a charge he and the newspaper vehemently deny -- in March.

WATCH: The husband of the RFE/RL journalist Alsu Kurmasheva, who was detained in Russia on October 18, has said she is a "political prisoner."

Husband Of Detained U.S. Journalist In Russia Says His Wife Is A 'Political Prisoner'
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Since 2012, Russia has used its so-called foreign agent laws to label and punish critics of government policies. It has also been increasingly used to shut down civil society and media groups in Russia since the Kremlin launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Amnesty International, the UN Human Rights Office, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and the chairman of the U.S. House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee have called for the immediate release of Kurmasheva.

The "foreign agent" law allows authorities to label nonprofit organizations as "foreign agents" if they receive funding from abroad and are engaged in political activities.

RFE/RL says the law amounts to political censorship meant to prevent journalists from performing their professional duties and is challenging the authorities' moves in Russian courts and at the European Court of Human Rights.

RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko
RFE/RL's jailed journalists (left to right): Alsu Kurmasheva, Ihar Losik, Andrey Kuznechyk, and Vladyslav Yesypenko

More than 30 RFE/RL employees have been listed as "foreign agents" by the Russian Justice Ministry in their personal capacity.

In March, a Moscow court declared the bankruptcy of RFE/RL's operations in Russia following the company's refusal to pay multiple fines totaling more than 1 billion rubles ($14 million) for noncompliance with the law.

Memorial, founded in 1987 to remember victims of Soviet repression, was closed down by Russia's Supreme Court in November 2021 -- citing the "foreign agents" law -- although it still functions outside the country and has managed to continue some activities inside Russia.

Updated

Russian Supreme Court Declares 'LGBT Movement' As 'Extremist'

A gay rights activist holds a poster reading "Love is stronger than homophobia!" while sitting inside a police van after his detention at a rally in central Moscow in 2013.
A gay rights activist holds a poster reading "Love is stronger than homophobia!" while sitting inside a police van after his detention at a rally in central Moscow in 2013.

Russia's Supreme Court has ruled that the LGBT movement is "extremist," a move that rights groups say will allow the country to clamp down even harder on gay and transgender people.

After a closed-door hearing, the court on November 30 said it had approved a Justice Ministry request to label the "international LGBT social movement" as extremist, which bans its activities in the country.

Russian human rights organizations had asked the Supreme Court to reject the ministry's request, saying that "it is impossible to call a group of people a 'social movement' simply because they belong to some social group, or because they are united by some personal characteristics."

The ruling is the latest in a series of blows to LGBT rights in Russia. President Vladimir Putin last year expanded the scope of a 2013 law banning the distribution of "gay propaganda" among children to include people of all ages.

"This shameful and absurd decision represents a new front in the Russian authorities' campaign against the LGBTI community," Marie Struthers, director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International, said in a statement.

"The ruling risks resulting in a blanket ban on LGBTI organizations with far-reaching violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, as well as the right to be free from discrimination. It will affect countless people, and its repercussions are poised to be nothing short of catastrophic," she added while calling on Russian authorities to reconsider the ruling.

In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations and arrest gay and transgender people, activists say they fear the ruling will mean internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be considered "extremist."

Russian law forbids citizens and organizations from supporting or promoting an extremist organization, including displaying its symbol online or offline. Punishments range from fines and closures to jail time.

Experts say Putin is targeting LGBT and other minorities to appease his conservative base ahead of a presidential election in March.

Thirteen Dead In Kazakh Hostel Fire

Emergency services said there were 72 people, many of them foreigners, in the hostel, which occupies the ground floor and the basement of a three-story building, and 59 of them managed to get out.
Emergency services said there were 72 people, many of them foreigners, in the hostel, which occupies the ground floor and the basement of a three-story building, and 59 of them managed to get out.

A fire in a hostel in the center of Almaty, Kazakhstan's largest city, has killed 13 people, the authorities said early on November 30.

Almaty Mayor Erbolat Dosaev said that among the dead were several foreigners, and Almaty police later clarified that nine of the victims were Kazakh citizens, while the other four were foreigners -- two Russian citizens, including one from the Far Eastern Sakha region, and two citizens of Uzbekistan.

Emergency services said there were 72 people, many of them foreigners, in the hostel, which occupies the ground floor and the basement of a three-story building, and 59 of them managed to get out.

The cause of the deaths was carbon-monoxide poisoning, officials said, adding that a commission has been set up to investigate the causes of the fire, which were not immediately clear.

Dosaev said that according to the regulations of the Health Ministry, placing guests in basements is prohibited. Basements can only be converted to accommodate storage or kitchens, the regulations say.

The Almaty Emergencies Department said that the hostel, which reportedly opened six weeks ago, had not received permission to operate. The hostel was equipped with a fire alarm that went off, but the building did not have mandatory fire extinguishers.

One of the people who was staying at the hostel, a Kazakh man from the southern region of Zhambyl, described the incident to Kazakhstan's news portal Tengrinews.

"When the fire started, the alarm went off, there was smoke all around. Everyone ran into the rooms to wake up the others. Everyone ran out into the street, but I couldn't see the actual fire. On the first floor there were seven rooms, each with seven people. Mostly Kazakhs lived there," the man said.

Almaty, a city of 1.8 million people, was Kazakhstan's capital until 1997 and it remains the Central Asian country's main trading and cultural center.

Ukraine Repels Russian Drone Attack, But Shelling, Missiles Claim More Victims

Emergency services deal with the aftermath of shelling in the Donetsk region on November 30.
Emergency services deal with the aftermath of shelling in the Donetsk region on November 30.

At least 10 civilians were wounded by Russian shelling in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donetsk overnight, regional Governor Ihor Moroz said on November 30. Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko, meanwhile, said Russian troops shelled the region's Pokrovsk, Novohrodivka, and Myrnohrad districts and also fired six S-300 missiles at Pokrovsk. "As a result of the shelling, 10 people were wounded, including four children. They are looking for five missing people under the rubble," Klymenko said. Ukraine's air defense said it shot down 14 out of the 20 Iranian-made drones that Russia launched at Ukrainian territory early on November 30. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Disabled Russian Sentenced To Jail For Writing 'No To War' In The Snow

A disabled Muscovite was sentenced to 10 days in jail for writing "No to war" in the snow, the Telegram channel Caution News reported. Dmitry Fedorov was detained by police while leaving Moscow's Gorky Park after he wrote the words with his finger on a snow-covered turnstile. Administrative protocols were filed against him for discrediting the Russian military and disobeying police, although Fedorov claimed that he went with the police to the precinct voluntarily. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Blinken Attends Dinner On Eve Of OSCE Meeting In Skopje, Leaves Before Lavrov Arrives

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meets in Skopje with his Macedonian counterpart, Bujar Osmani, on November 29.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (right) meets in Skopje with his Macedonian counterpart, Bujar Osmani, on November 29.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with the president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) at a dinner on November 29, the eve of a two-day meeting of the group in Skopje. Blinken met with Bujar Osmani, foreign minister of North Macedonia, telling him that the United States strongly supported all that Skopje is doing to strengthen democratic institutions and bring energy diversification to the region. Blinken departed for Israel after the dinner and before the arrival of his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. To read the full story by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, click here.

Russian LGBT Activists Form Organization In Last-Ditch Attempt To Stymie Government's 'Extremist' Case

In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations, activists say that at stake is whether internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be declared "extremist."
In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations, activists say that at stake is whether internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be declared "extremist."

Russian activists have made a last-ditch attempt to stymie a controversial government case that many fear could force LGBT organizations in the country to shut down.

The Russian Supreme Court on November 30 is scheduled to hear closed-door arguments in a Justice Ministry case to declare the "International LGBT Social Movement" an "extremist" organization.

If the court rules in favor of the ministry, it would allow law enforcement to use the ambiguous 2002 law on extremism to close any LGBT organization it desires, activists say.

As no organization called the International LGBT Social Movement existed when the Justice Ministry filed its suit earlier this month, there would be no one to defend it and, more importantly, the entire LGBT community during the hearing before the Supreme Court, activists said.

In their last-ditch effort, a group of LGBT activists moved quickly on November 29 to legally create a Russian organization called the International LGBT Social Movement and now hopes to be allowed to represent it in court.

In addition to potential threats to close LGBT organizations, activists say that at stake is whether internationally recognized LGBT symbols such as the rainbow will be declared "extremist."

Russian law forbids citizens and organizations from supporting or promoting an extremist organization, including displaying its symbol online or offline. Punishments range from fines and closures to jail time.

If the Justice Ministry claims in court that the rainbow -- a universal symbol for LGBT rights and inclusion -- represents the International LGBT Social Movement, then it would no longer be safe to display it in Russia, activists say.

If the Supreme Court declares the organization "extremist," it also would be the latest in a series of blows to LGBT rights in Russia. President Vladimir Putin last year expanded the scope of a 2013 law banning the distribution of "gay propaganda" among children to include people of all ages.

Experts say Putin is targeting LGBT and other minorities to appease his conservative base ahead of a presidential election in March.

Opposition Politicians Arrested In Kosovo During Protest Against Special War Crimes Court

A protest led by politicians opposed to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers escalated on the streets of Pristina.
A protest led by politicians opposed to the Kosovo Specialist Chambers escalated on the streets of Pristina.

Several members of an opposition party in Kosovo were arrested on November 29 during a protest in Pristina against a special war crimes court in The Hague that is prosecuting former Kosovar leaders over crimes committed during the 1998-99 war against Serbia.

Six members of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which is not represented in parliament, were arrested and ordered detained for 48 hours by the prosecutor's office, PSD said, adding that its chairman, Dardan Molliqaj, was among those arrested.

The protest took place during a visit by Kosovo Specialist Chambers (KSC) President Ekaterina Trendafilova and escalated when protesters threw smoke bombs inside and outside the hotel where she was holding a meeting with members of civil society. Police responded by using tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters.

The presence of Trendafilova "is an attempt to...improve the image of the unjust special court," PSD said on Facebook.

PSD said the detention of its members was unfair and an attempt to silence the opposition.

Kosovar police have not commented on the arrests or the protest.

The demonstrators believe that the KSC has unfairly accused former members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), which waged the war for independence from Serbia and are now on trial at The Hague.

The KSC is a Kosovar court seated in the Netherlands and staffed by international judges. It was set up in 2015 to handle cases under Kosovo law against former UCK guerrillas.

Former Kosovar President Hashim Thaci, former parliament speaker Kadri Veseli, former lawmaker Rexhep Selimi, and others have been charged. They were all top leaders of the UCK.

Thaci resigned as president of Kosovo in November 2020 after learning that the KSC had confirmed an indictment against him. The charges against him and the others include murder, torture, and persecution.

Speaking before the protest escalated, Molliqaj said that the demonstrators gathered in front of the hotel to oppose Trendafilova's visit.

He claimed that the court’s mandate is to pursue only the UCK and said that whenever Kosovo gets closer to Serbia, "there has been persecution of the UCK."

With reporting by AP

Another Russian General Reportedly Dies In Ukraine

The Russian media website Important Stories says Vladimir Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. (illustrative photo)
The Russian media website Important Stories says Vladimir Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. (illustrative photo)

Another Russian Army general has died in Ukraine, according to Ukrainian and Russian media reports on November 29. Russian Major General Vladimir Zavadsky died on November 28, according to the reports, which say his death was confirmed by an organization of graduates of his military school. The Russian research group Conflict Intelligence Team also confirmed Zavadsky's death, citing Russian military sources. The Russian Defense Ministry has not confirmed his death. The Russian media website Important Stories says Zavadsky is the seventh Russian general whose death in the war in Ukraine has been confirmed by Russian sources. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Iranian Judge At Wushu Championships Takes Stand By Shunning Head Scarf

Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.
Arghavan Jalali Farahani funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs.

In a bold act of defiance, an Iranian judge at the 2023 World Wushu Championships in the United States appeared without the mandatory hijab, igniting a controversy back home where the head scarf has become a flashpoint in a battle for women's rights.

In an exclusive interview with RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Arghavan Jalali Farahani explained that her decision was "a gesture of solidarity with the ongoing struggles in Iran" and a tribute to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand, two Iranian women who died after a confrontation with morality police over the hijab and have become symbols of resistance against the mandatory Islamic dress code.

The incident gained international attention after a photo of Farahani, with nothing covering her head, surfaced online from the competition being held in Fort Worth, Texas. Despite her name being announced as Iran's representative, the Islamic republic's Wushu Federation swiftly denied she was there officially.

Farahani called the federation's denial a fabrication, adding she was appointed as Iran's representative by the same federation. She further revealed that initially, she was informed by Iranian officials of her removal from the competition list.

After making inquiries, however, she discovered that they had lied to her and that her name was still valid as a judge representing Iran, most likely because officials needed to keep her name on the list to ensure they could collect money for her being there.

"They didn't want me to judge. On the one hand, they did not remove my name from the list so that I would remain on their unrealistic invoices, which is a significant amount. They didn't think I would follow up and realize their lie," Farahani added.

Farahani said that in the end, she funded her own travel to the competition and fulfilled her role as a judge, because she wanted to take a stand and wouldn't compromise her beliefs, as that would have been a disservice to those who have lost their lives in Iran's struggle for freedom and justice.

"I wanted to stand with the people who are fighting inside Iran with this small act. Perhaps I have been able to pay respect to Mahsa Amini and Armita Garavand with my actions," she said.

The hijab, or Islamic head scarf, became compulsory for women and girls over the age of 9 in 1981, two years after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The move triggered protests that were swiftly crushed by the new authorities. Many women have flouted the rule over the years and pushed the boundaries of what officials say is acceptable clothing.

Women have also launched campaigns against the discriminatory law, although many have been pressured by the state and forced to leave the country.

The death of 22-year-old Amini in September 2022 in police custody for an alleged hijab violation released a wave of anger that has presented the Islamic regime with its biggest challenge since the revolution.

The case of the 17-year-old Garavand, who succumbed in October 2023 to injuries suffered in an alleged confrontation with morality police in the Tehran subway over a head-scarf violation, and suggestions of a cover-up by the authorities over what transpired in the teen's last living moments, have drawn parallels with the events leading up to the death of Amini, which was also shrouded in mystery.

Wushu, often referred to as kung fu, is a competitive martial arts sport that integrates concepts and forms from various traditional and modern Chinese martial arts.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

New U.S. Sanctions Target Illicit Financial Networks Set Up To Benefit Iranian Military

The United States has imposed a new round of sanctions on more than 20 people and firms that the U.S. Treasury Department says have been involved in a "financial facilitation network" for the benefit of the Iranian military.

The sanctions target people and companies inside Iran as well as in Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) said in a news release on November 29.

The sanctions single out the Iranian firm Sepehr Energy and its employees, brokers, and purchasers, saying the business acts as a front company for the Iranian government's oil sales, which "fund its destabilizing regional activities and support of multiple regional proxy groups."

These groups include Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, and Hizballah.

OFAC said the people and entities designated for sanctions are involved in the networks, which ultimately benefit Iran's Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), the Armed Forces General Staff (AFGS), and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' Qods Force (IRGC-QF).

MODAFL and the AFGS sell commodities through networks that include "shadow banking" and front companies both inside Iran and abroad, OFAC said.

"The IRGC-QF and MODAFL continue to engage in illicit finance schemes to generate funds to fan conflict and spread terror throughout the region," Undersecretary of the Treasury Brian Nelson said.

Sepehr Energy oversees this activity for the AFGS, OFAC said, adding that its deputy chairman, principal board member, and managing director, Majid A'Zami, who is also an Iranian Oil Ministry official, was also blacklisted.

Another company designated for sanctions is the Iran-based Pishro Tejarat Sana Company, which OFAC said works with Sepehr Energy to facilitate the sale and shipment of commodities to overseas buyers, generating revenue for MODAFL and the Iranian military.

Pishro Tejarat works on behalf of Sepehr Energy, in return for a portion of the profits, it said, adding that its chairman of the board of directors, Seyyed Abdoljavad Alavi, was designated for sanctions in the action announced on November 29.

Neslon said the United States "remains committed to exposing elements of the Iranian military and its complicit partners abroad to disrupt this critical source of funds."

The sanctions block access to U.S. property and bank accounts and prevent the targeted people and companies from doing business with Americans.

With reporting by AP

Rights Group Says Iranian Political Prisoner Karimi Executed Along With Six Others

Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.
Ayoub Karimi was arrested in 2010.

Ayoub Karimi, an Iranian-Kurdish prisoner of conscience who has been held in Qezelhesar prison in Karaj for the past 14 years, was executed on November 29, according to human rights watchdogs.

The Norway-based group Iran Human Rights said Karimi's execution came along with the carrying out of the death sentences of six other prisoners, a sign of Tehran's continued increase in the meting out of capital punishment against political and religious dissenters.

"The execution of Ayoub Karimi, based on coerced confessions and without a fair trial, like the execution of other political prisoners, is a crime," said Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, director of Iran Human Rights.

"The authorities of the Islamic republic must be held accountable for this crime."

The identities of the six other prisoners executed along with Karimi were not disclosed, but the Hengaw rights group noted that Ghasem Abasteh, a co-defendant in Karimi's case, faced a similar fate last month. The remaining five defendants are still incarcerated and face the imminent threat of execution.

Karimi, Davoud Abdollahi, Farhad Salimi, Anwar Khezri, Khosrow Besharat, and Kamran Sheikheh were arrested in January 2010. They were subsequently sentenced by Tehran's Islamic Revolutionary Court on charges including "acting against national security" and "corruption on Earth."

Their death sentences were confirmed in 2020 amid allegations of coerced confessions and torture -- a claim supported by at least four prisoners in open letters.

Amnesty International said in a statement at the time that the trial was "grossly unfair," pointing to forced confessions under torture.

The rate of executions in Iran has been rising sharply, particularly in the wake of widespread protests that swept across the country last year following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in police custody for an alleged head-scarf violation.

Amnesty International says the regime in Tehran has executed more people than any other country in the world other than China so far this year.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on November 2 that Iran was carrying out executions "at an alarming rate," while Iran Human Rights said more than 600 people had been executed in the country during the first seven months of the year.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Russia Issues Arrest Warrant For Ukrainian Eurovision Winner

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) poses with Jamala in Kyiv on November 29, 2022.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy (left) poses with Jamala in Kyiv on November 29, 2022.

The Moscow prosecutor's office said on November 29 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Ukrainian Eurovison Song Contest winner Jamala, who is of Crimean Tatar origin, on a charge of distributing "fake" information about Russia's armed forces involved in Moscow's invasion of Ukraine. Earlier this month, the Russian Interior Ministry added the singer, whose real name is Susana Dzhamaladinova, to its wanted list. In 2016, Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest for performing a ballad that described the brutal 1944 Soviet deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea to Central Asia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Former Crimean Mayor Sentenced To 16 Years On Espionage Charge

Yuriy Lomenko (file photo)
Yuriy Lomenko (file photo)

A Russian-installed court in Ukraine's occupied Crimea on November 29 sentenced Yuriy Lomenko, former mayor of the city of Simeyiz, to 16 years in prison for espionage. The court found Lomenko guilty of collecting classified data and handing the information to Ukrainian intelligence. Lomenko led Simeyiz from 2013 to 2014 and in 2019 became a municipal lawmaker in the Russian-controlled council of the Crimean city of Yalta. He was arrested in November 2021. It remains unclear what kind of information he is accused of collecting for Kyiv, as the trial was held behind closed doors. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Russian Lawmaker Jailed For 11 Years In Absentia In Ukraine

Olga Kovitidi (file photo)
Olga Kovitidi (file photo)

A court in Ukraine has sentenced in absentia Olga Kovitidi, a member of the Russian parliament's upper chamber, the Federation Council, to 11 years in prison on charges of collaboration with occupying Russian forces and justification of Moscow's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, the Kyiv-controlled Prosecutor's Office of Crimea said on November 29. Kovitidi, 61, served as a Ukrainian lawmaker in Crimea, deputy mayor of Sevastopol, and an aide to the Ukrainian justice minister until Russia seized Crimea in 2014. She supported the annexation and then became a member of Russia's Federation Council. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Lawmakers Approve Bill On Amending National Flag In First Reading

Kyrgyz lawmakers on November 29 approved the first reading of a bill amending Kyrgyzstan's national flag amid controversy. The bill, proposed in October, says that the slightly wavy rays of a yellow sun on a red field on the current flag give and impression of a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is "kunkarama," but it also has a second meaning: "dependent." The bill would allow the "straightening" of the sunrays to make it look more like a sun, the lawmakers said, adding that the current image on the flag conjures up thoughts of the Central Asian country's dependence on foreign loans and investment. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Iranian Sports Federation Chief Removed After Athlete's Hijab Violation At Competition

Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)
Mehran Tishegaran (file photo)

The head of Iran's Deaf Sports Federation has been dismissed after at least one female athlete from Kazakhstan did not wear attire that adhered to the Islamic republic's strict dress code during an event while male officials and referees were in attendance.

The dismissal of Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation follows an exclusive report by RFERL's Radio Farda on November 27 that showed video of the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran.

Radio Farda's exclusive footage of the championships showed the Kazakh female athlete jumping over a hurdle in sport shorts and a shirt with no sleeves while her Iranian counterparts ran in the mandatory Islamic hijab. The video also captured male referees and officials at the Aftab Enghelab Stadium.

The controversy was further fueled by comments Tishegaran regarding the mixing of genders at the event, where he stated that he should be hanged if any men were present during women's competitions.

In response to the furor created by the scene, Iranian Sports Minister Kiumars Hashemi removed Mehran Tishegaran from his role at the federation and appointed Alireza Khosravi as the interim head.

The semi-official ISNA News Agency characterized the dismissal as a direct consequence of the fallout from the Asian Deaf Athletics Championships in Tehran. The incident has sparked a broader discussion about the enforcement of dress codes in international sports events held in Iran and the gender dynamics within such settings if the country is to host similar competitions.

In October 2022, climbing champion Elnaz Rekabi sparked a controversy by competing in the Asian Championships in Seoul without a head scarf.

The hijab -- the head covering worn by Muslim women -- became compulsory in public for Iranian women and girls over the age of nine after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The lack of women's rights in Iran has come under intense scrutiny since the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini while in police custody for a head-scarf violation.

Since then, thousands have poured onto the streets across the country to protest the treatment of women and a general lack of rights, with women and schoolgirls making unprecedented shows of support in the biggest threat to the Islamic government since the 1979 revolution.

In response, the authorities have launched a brutal crackdown on dissent, detaining thousands and handing down stiff sentences to protesters, including the death penalty.

Resistance to the hijab is likely to increase, analysts say, as it is seen now as a symbol of the state's repression of women and the deadly crackdown on society.

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Russian Detained For Allegedly Spying For Latvia

(illustrative photo)
(illustrative photo)

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said on November 29 that its officers detained a resident of the northwestern city of Pechory on suspicion of spying for Latvia. According to the FSB, the suspect, whose identity was not disclosed, collected information about Russian armed forces located in the area and intended to hand it to the Latvian Embassy in Moscow in exchange for Latvian citizenship. Earlier this month, a court in Latvia sentenced a former interior minister and ex-lawmaker, Janis Adamsons, to 8 1/2 years in prison for spying for Russia. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North.Realities, click here.

Three Suspects, Including Father, Arrested In Pakistani 'Honor' Killing Of Girl

Police in Pakistan's northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have arrested four men suspected in the "honor" killing of a girl who had posted a photo of herself together with a boy on Facebook. Police officer Noor Muhammad, from the region's Kohistan district, told Radio Mashaal on November 28 that the killing was committed by the father of the girl, whose name was Reema, with the aid of three relatives on November 24 in the district village of Palas-Kotlai. An anonymous source told Radio Mashaal that a second girl and the boy in the photo were under police protection. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal, click here.

Leader Of Unregistered Kazakh Opposition Party Gets Seven Years In Prison

Kazakh opposition leader Marat Zhylanbaev appears in court last month.
Kazakh opposition leader Marat Zhylanbaev appears in court last month.

A court in Astana on November 29 sentenced the chairman of Kazakhstan's unregistered Algha Kazakhstan (Forward Kazakhstan) party, Marat Zhylanbaev, to seven years in prison after finding him guilty of taking part in a banned group's activities and financing an extremist group. Zhylanbaev rejected the charges against him, calling them politically motivated. He has been on a hunger strike since late October protesting against a court decision to hold his trial, which started on November 1 behind closed doors. Human Rights Watch has urged the Kazakh authorities to immediately release Zhylanbaev. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

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